Idaho: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: December 18, 2017
Distracted driving news: Bans on use of handheld electronic devices for all drivers are now in effect in Ketchum and Hailey, with Blaine County close behind. Fines: $100. The Ketchum ordinance was approved in early April, with lawmakers calling the ordinance “a no-brainer.” Partial enforcement started in mid-June with written warnings through the first quarter of 2017 unless a crash results. Hailey’s ban went into effect in mid-September, but ticketing won’t begin until a lengthy warning period lapses. Blaine County, which includes Hailey, approved a similar ordinance Sept. 19. It is to take effect once a legal notice is published. Sandpoint also has a handheld cell phone ban.

idaho state flag Idaho has a statewide texting & driving ban. AAA Idaho tried and failed to interest the Senate Transportation Committee in upgrading to a handheld cell phone ban in 2016. The committee said in mid-February that the plan was introduced too late in the session, and “people on both sides” needed to be heard before any distracted driving legislation advanced.

The Idaho text messaging law calls for primary enforcement — meaning police need no other reason to stop and cite violators — but offenses are not moving violations. No points against the license.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging and driving prohibited. Fine: about $85. Hands-free texting allowed.
  • There is an “inattentive driving” law in Idaho, but it rarely is used for cell phones or texting. Fines up to $300 with the possibility of jail time.
  • Ketchum, Hailey and Sandpoint have banned use of handheld wireless devices while driving.

Read Idaho’s text messaging law | inattentive driving statute

Distracted driving notes (2016):
Blaine County commissioners passed their own handheld cell phone ban in late September, but expressed hopes that the state soon will approve a uniform law. Sheriff Gene Ramsey stressed the educational nature of the county law, vowing “common sense and some officer discretion” in writing tickets.

Bellevue is considering restrictions on drivers’ use of handheld cell phones. Bellevue’s plan is being modeled after Ketchum’s new ban, which calls for primary enforcement.

Hailey’s handheld device ban was approved by its City Council over the summer. $100 fine. A plan to offer tourists a one-time amnesty was rejected.

State Sen. Steve Vick objected to the AAA’s bid to introduce a handheld cell phone ban past the deadline for legislative consideration. He told reporters it was likely the cell phone legislation would return in the next session.

The lobbyist for AAA of Idaho told the Senate Transportation Committee: “What we have presented to you is a proposed baby step on the issue of distracted driving, which kills approximately 40 to 50 Idahoans a year,” Kane said.

2015 distracted driving notes:
As of late December, about 210 people died on Idaho’s highways in 2015, according to the Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety. At least 186 people died in 2014, officials said. That means 2015 will break the multiyear downward trend in state traffic deaths. About 16 percent of roadway fatalities can be blamed on distracted driving over the past five years, safety officials say.

2014’s historically low number of traffic deaths can be credited in part to reductions in distracted driving and the safety campaigns that helped raise awareness of that risky behavior, ITD said Jan. 6. “Idaho drivers are making smarter decisions, buckling up and avoiding risky behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving or driving while impaired,” said highway safety manager Brent Jennings. The downward trend has continued despite a statewide increase in miles traveled and vehicles operated.

State Rep. Joe Palmer, head of the Transportation Committee, says he won’t support an overall ban on handheld wireless device use by state drivers. “I’m not going there,” he told the Idaho Reporter.

Idaho’s texting & driving law isn’t preventing accidents, Palmer charges: “It’s not doing anything … It has no effect.” Palmer’s comments came after the Idaho Transportation Department reported that electronic devices caused 27 percent of the state’s distracted driving accidents in 2014. That’s up from 23 percent in 2013 and 24 percent in 2012. Palmer told the Idaho Reporter that he wasn’t calling for a repeal, mostly because the publicity could lead to more distracted driving.

2014 distracted driving legislation (dead):
House Bill 466: Sought to add known medical conditions to violations of existing inattentive driving statute. Fines up to $300 with the possibility of jail time. Approved by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 14. Rejected by the full House in a 19-49 vote of Feb. 20. (Trujillo)

HB 450: See HB 466, above.

2013 distracted driving legislation (dead):
House Bill 155: Would prohibit teen drivers with six-month supervised instruction permits from using cell phones and similar wireless communications devices. No hands-free exemption. Approved by the the House Transportation Committee in a 9-7 vote of Feb. 27, but returned to the panel the next day for rewording. (AAA Oregon/Idaho via Judiciary Committee)

2013 distracted driving notes:
Idaho State Police say they’ve issued only 66 tickets for texting & driving since the distracted driving law went into effect a year ago.

A measure that would have barred teen drivers with six-month instruction permits from using cell phones failed to win approval in the House during the 2013 legislative session. The bill, requested by AAA Oregon/Idaho, cleared the the House Transportation Committee in a tight 9-7 vote taken Feb. 27. Chairman Joe Palmer voted against the plan, saying adults supervising the novice drivers should not be able to use cell phones, either: “They are in a teaching mode — they shouldn’t be allowed to talk on the phone.”

A AAA spokesman told lawmakers this was “a logical step” in addressing distracted driving and the high number of teen accidents. “There is a lot of work to do,” he said. No bill proposing a ban on handheld cell phone use by all drivers has been proposed in 2013.

2012 distracted driving legislation:
Senate Bill 1274: Would outlaw texting by all drivers. Hands-free texting allowed. Fine: $85. No points against driver’s license. Non-moving violation. Approved by the Senate in a 29-6 vote taken Feb. 21. Approved by the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 28. Amended by the House to specify no points and to remove the exemption for law officers. Approved by the House in a 53-17 vote taken March 20. Senate signed off on House changes March 23 in a 29-5 vote. Latest legislative action: Signed by the governor April 5. Took effect July 1, 2012. Aka 1274a. (Senate Transportation Committee)

Senate Bill 1251: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones by drivers. Hands-free OK. Specifies that police may not confiscate cell phones as evidence. Fine: $75. (Bock, Werk)

SB 1252: Would prohibit text messaging by all drivers in Idaho. Hands-free OK. Fines: $75 (first offense), then $100. If injury or property damage results from texting & driving, violation is a misdemeanor with a $300 fine plus possible 90 days in jail. (Bock, Werk)

2012 distracted driving notes:
Texting while driving is no longer permitted in Idaho. Enforcement began July 1, 2012, in time for the holiday week.

The wording of the successful Senate Bill 1274 focused on texting without mention of other common smartphone functions such as accessing the Internet and using applications. Several legislators pointed out that the new law did not adequately cover current technologies. House sponsor Rep. Judy Ellsworth, R-Boise, responded during debate that “We could get into an is-is debate, but I do know that teenagers know what texting is, and I believe that this bill will send that message to them.”

Political wrangling and disagreements had derailed all distracted driving legislation to date, but lawmakers acknowledged during debate on the 2012 texting plan that public sentiment has changed.

Distracted driving was linked to 192 traffic deaths in the period 2008-2010, the state Transportation Department reports. In 2009, 60 crashes were linked to distractions.

Almost nine out of 10 Idaho voters are in favor of a ban on text messaging, a AAA survey has found. Six in 10 wanted to see some kind of cell phone ban for drivers. Eight in 10 backed enhanced penalties for distracted drivers who cause accidents, AAA said.

The Idaho Press-Telegram surveyed 12 Canyon County representatives, all Republicans, and found none in favor of bans or limits on cell phone use while driving.

Sen. Les Bock returned with two distracted driving bills: one that would ban texting and another that would prohibit use of handheld cell phones. Neither advanced. The chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee predicted a ban on texting and driving will clear the Legislature in 2012.

AAA Idaho’s latest survey of state voters found 87 percent in support of a statewide ban on texting while driving. 59 percent backed limits on cell phones and driving, with 37 percent feeling strongly about a ban. 79 percent wanted to see “enchanced” penalties for drivers who commit other violations while distracted. “There is strong bipartisan support to write a new law or amend the existing law to ban (texting),” AAA Idaho president Jim Manion said. The survey of 400 Idaho voters was conducted in November and released in mid-January. AAA Idaho supports legislation that seeks to ban texting and driving.

2011 distracted driving notes:
Sandpoint’s ban on driving while using handheld cell phones and texting took effect Dec. 29. The Sept. 21 vote by the City Council set a fine of $10 for violations but with secondary enforcement. Councilwoman Carrie Logan’s plan was for primary enforcement of a texting ban, but police felt they couldn’t enforce the law if handheld cell phone was allowed. Councilwoman Marsha Ogilvie said in early June: “Passage by the city will help the state legislators do the right thing.” (See 2009 notes, below.)

In 2011, Idaho’s Legislature adjourned April 7 without passing any distracted driving legislation. The House defeated a vaguely worded measure that would have created an offense of distracted driving while using a handheld electronic device — not an outright ban.

Coeur d’Alene decided in April 2010 to hold off on a texting ban, hoping that the state will take action in 2011. That didn’t happen, so safety activist Steve Bell is pushing the City Council to reopen its debate on a local ordinance. Councilmen John Bruning, Mike Kennedy, Ron Edinger reportedly are in favor of revisiting a text messaging ban in Coeur d’Alene. Bruning said in spring 2010: “I’ll wait one more session. “If we’re sitting here talking about this again, and the Legislature has punted again,” then the time has come to enact ordinance.

Two separate bills were filed for the 2011 legislation session that would have banned handheld cell phone use and text messaging while driving, but they were ignored.

The Idaho distracted driving bill put forth by Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, wouldn’t actually ban text messaging or use of handheld cell phones. Violators must exhibit signs of distracted driving before any police stop would be allowed. The offense would be an infraction. “We would fill the courts up with misdemeanors (otherwise),” he told the House Judiciary Committee. Hagedorn is one of the Legislature’s most conservative members.

More Hagedorn: On Feb. 28, he told a House hearing on HB 141: “This (bill) truly is a piece of sausage. I can tell you that AAA is not completely happy, the insurance companies are not completely happy, the sheriffs are not completely happy, I am not completely happy, nor are the local law enforcement folks.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, says his plan for a handheld cell phone ban (SB 1024) is “a compromise between an outright ban and at least allowing some of the more sophisticated technologies that allow people to use cell phones.” His anti-texting bill, SB 1025, also allows for hands-free operation.

“There’s been a lot of discussion going on as to what a texting bill may look like this session,” Sen. John McGee told the AP on Jan. 25. “I don’t think this (SB 1025) will be the last piece of legislation we see this year.”

Earlier, Sen. McGee, R-Caldwell, said he was “confident that we will pass (a texting ban) next year (2011).” McGee has reworked the language used in 2010’s Senate Bill 1352 to tackle lawmakers’ objections. He had the same hopes last year, however.

2011 distracted driving legislation (dead)
House Bill 141: Would prohibit use of any handheld electronic devices while driving “that causes such person to be distracted or otherwise fail to exercise due care.” Hands-free, voice-activated use allowed. Fine: $75. Amended March 24 to add these new penalties: If property damage or injury occurs, fine could reach $300 with a possible 90 days in jail. Defeated in the House in a 21-48 vote taken March 29. (House Judiciary Committee/Hagedorn)

Senate Bill 1024: Would outlaw use of a handheld cell phone while driving in Idaho. Hands-free OK. Fine: $75. Never advanced. (Bock)

SB 1025: Seeks to prohibit text messaging by all drivers. Hands-free texting OK. Fines: $50 (first offense), then $100. If injury or property damage results from texting while driving, $300 and/or 90 days in jail. Never advanced. (Bock)

2010 legislation (dead)
Senate Bill 1352: Seeks to ban text-messaging activities by drivers, which it terms “inattentive driving.” Fines up to $300 and/or 90 days in jail. Approved by the Senate on March 10 and sent to the House, where it was bypassed March 26 in favor of HB 729 (below). (McGee/Caldwell/Senate Transportation Committee)

House Bill 729: Bans text messaging for all drivers in Idaho. Fines: $40 plus court costs for first offense; after that, $100 plus costs and points against license. Allows prosecutors to subpoena cell phone records for convictions. The House agreed with the Senate’s amendments on the last night of the legislative session. An opponent prevented a final vote by objecting to a routine rules suspension. This effectively killed the texting measure as time ran out. (Kren)

SB 1264: Would outlaw use of handheld cell phones on Idaho’s roads and highways. Provides for use of hands-free devices such as Bluetooth headphones. $75 fine. (Bock)

SB 1259: Would outlaw use of cell phones and text messaging devices in school zones when children are present. Fines of at least $75 for first offenses and $150 thereafter. (Bilyeu)

Distracted driving notes (2010):
Twin Falls’ ban on text messaging while driving went into effect Oct. 1. The 4-2 City Council vote of Aug. 9 establishes a $50 fine for the distracted driving practice. Councilman Greg Lanting led the push for the ban, which will receive primary enforcement. Lanting said of concerns that police would be confused by drivers entering cell phone numbers on keyboards: “Officers have to make judgment calls and courts have to make decisions based on judgment calls all the time, so that’s the approach we’re taking,” said Lanting.

Meridian banned texting and driving with “Kassy’s Law,” in memory of a high school girl who died in late 2009. Took effect Nov. 1, 2010. Fines start at $75 and go up to $300 with possibility of jail time.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, killed efforts to push through the House texting ban on March 30, the final day of the 2010 session. The Idaho Mountain Express described the events like so: The Senate amended the bill earlier in the evening, the House then approved those changes, but Labrador objected to a routine rules suspension that would have allowed an immediate and final vote. A two-thirds majority was needed to override the objection, but that effort fell 10 votes short. Labrador is running for Congress.

Rep. Hagedorn noted in debate over the House’s text-messaging ban: “We are going to have to deal with this from this point on for years. “This is not something that is going to go away.”

Sen. John McGee, chairman of the Transportation Committee, has crafted legislation that would add text messaging to the state’s inattentive driving prohibitions. “We’re adjusting the current law to reflect the year 2010 problem of text messaging while driving,” he told the Idaho Reporter.

For 2010, Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, brought back his two-pack of bills that would outlaw text messaging for Idaho drivers and restrict cell phone use to units that employ a hands-free device. He believes the bills will have better prospects following the noisy national debate over distracted driving and portable electronic devices. So far, he’s filed SB 1264 (above).

“Public awareness of the dangers of texting while driving has increased exponentially this summer,” Bock said in a state Democratic Party statement on distracted driving. “We now know that the longer we wait to act, the more lives will be lost. … This issue was a bit under the radar when we brought it up last winter. But clearly, the time has come to enact legislation that will help drivers realize that it’s neither safe nor smart to text while driving.”

The press release from the Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus billed the push as bipartisan and listed a co-sponsor for Bock’s bills as JoAn Wood, the GOP chairman of Idaho’s House Transportation Committee. Past support has come only from the Democratic side of the aisle. Other backers include Assistant Senate Minority Leader Elliot Werk and House Democrats Liz Chavez, Elfreda Higgins and Anne Pasley-Stuart.

Sandpoint’s mayor on Dec. 31 vetoed legislation that would have outlawed text messaging while driving in city limits. An attempt to override the veto failed on Jan. 20, 2010. Earlier, Sandpoint’s City Council rejected a proposed ordinance that would have banned drivers’ use of handheld cell phones and text messaging behind the wheel. The Dec. 16, 2009, vote was 3-3, with the mayor breaking the tie. The plan was revived as a texting-only ordinance, but Mayor Gretchen Hellar wielded her veto power. The mayor did ban use of cell phones by Sandpoint employees driving city cars. (For update, see 2011 distracted driving notes, above.)

Canyon County is using Idaho’s law against “inattentive driving” to crack down on people who text message while driving. The request came from Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak on Sept. 22, 2010. While Idaho considers putting a texting law on the books, “In the meantime we can take some action,” Bukak told the Idaho Press.

Idaho Falls has debated an ordinance targeting drivers distracted by cell phones and text messaging.

Coeur d’Alene decided in April to hold off on a texting ban, hoping that the state will take action in 2011. (None was taken and the issue is back before the council.)

2009 legislation (failed):
Senate Bill 1030: Would have prohibited the use of cell phones with a hands-free accessory.

SB 1031: Would have banned text messaging while operating a motor vehicle.

No bills regarding cell phone use were submitted for the 2008 legislative session.

Editorials and opinion:
“Being able to stop drivers for texting alone would discourage the practice and save lives, just like DUI laws can keep drunk drivers off the road. Obviously, people will continue to send texts and drive just like some continue to get behind the wheel after too many drinks, but a text ban would give officers an avenue to potentially prevent a tragedy.” — Idaho Press Tribune, Sept. 27, 2009


  1. Peggy Rounds says:

    Idaho REALLY needs the law of NOT texting or driving on cell phones!! Nobody drives anymore! With the speed limit on hwy is 80 mph, I am scared half to death using it to go to Twin!! People using cells go up and down speed limits and ya end up playing tag with them because of cells! They don’t move over in right lane so you can get passed! You have a slower driver in the right lane and cell driver in the left lane!! I HATE driving anymore since these damn cells!! They make me have ‘Road Rage’ so I drive faster to get ahead and pass them! That’s not good either!

  2. Terry Van Scotter says:

    Well there ya go! only 66 tickets issued in a year! there’s the problem! the police dont enforce it or just plain ignore it! they need tougher laws on this including police officers with their laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices that they use while trying to operate a motor vehicle.

    I just dont understand the law here in Idaho (very vague), so is there a law or not?

  3. Da Bizzo says:

    Can we report these people as drunk drivers? I see the signs saying report drunk drivers, but why not report them as drunk drivers, they are all over the road and inattentive as a drunk driver is. I say send a message to *ISP for them too! I was looking for a number to report it to, but I think I’ll just do that.

  4. Pete Blockhan says:

    as usual our gutless lawmakers haven’t put any teeth in their new law. I have a fused neck and artificial shoulder thanks to a driver on his cell phone.

  5. This happened in california. Now, like there, I must keep a keen eye out for police rather than keeping my eye on the road. Now, how is that safer. I thought Idaho was above such -in your face- types of laws.

  6. I already use bluetooth and rarely text while driving and agree this is a good idea. However, why is it that I cant hold a phone but as Padam said I see people holding ankle biters in their laps while driving. Seems the inattentive driving law should be enforced more as well.

  7. As I am a residence of Treasure Valley, I have seen lots of crashes because cell phone distraction. Lets make our Boise hands free and make safe for the innocent public. Both text and call are life threatening when we are in vehicle operation. I have seen lots of people keeping their pets on drivers lap while driving isn’t big distraction? lets save our beautiful life and save everybody.

  8. larry brunetti says:

    All of these proposed laws are hopeless. Laws will not stop the stupidity. I saw a woman turn left in front of me while talking on the phone in her left hand, a sandwich in her right hand, driving with her wrist. So many just ignore red lights and zoom right on through. Stop signs mean nothing!!!

    The answer is how they do it in Germany:

    1. A driving license costs over $3000.
    2. A driving licnese MUST be preceeded by a LONG instruction and testing by certified driving schools.
    3. Any major infraction means that you get a big fine and possibly jail and losing your license forever.

    Result? Germany has the best drivers in the world, and the lowest traffic infractions. They have no speed limits and the best roads in the world. Only downside: with no speed limit, when the fog/rain/snow comes, they don’t slow down much and when there is a crash, it wipes out HUNDREDS of cars.

  9. Jennifer Hoffman says:

    I feel that it should be made illegal to text or talk on a cell phone while driving. I have a cell phone and not only will I not answer it while I am driving but I have the ringer off so that it won’t become a temptation to answer when I am driving. There are too many distractions when you’re behind the wheel to start with that is not one that any one on the road should have to deal with. When you focus more on what you’re texting/talking about your paying less attention to your surroundings. You are not the only one at risk when your not 100% focused on driving. The child crossing the street, the car in front of you not to mention your passengers are all possible victims just because that text or phone call was more important. There is NOTHING more important then life, NOTHING. What did we all do before cell phones; we ALL had to wait till we got home to deal with that issue, so tell me what has changed? What made texting/talking when you’re in a machine that can do so much damage more important?

  10. Tana Yates says:

    I think that both texting while driving and using a cell phone while driving is not ok it is a big distration and should be made illegal. I f you have something like a bluetooth i believe you should still be able to use the but only as long as it is a handsfree device. How many people have to die before we relise that this is very dangerous and need to be taken care of and made illegal.

  11. lethal weapon says:

    please please make it a law no hand held phones while driving in Idaho. im not against talking on cell phones while driving with a blue tooth. just holding a cell phone in your hand while driving.

  12. If they ban cell phone use then they should also ban CD changing, changing of the radio station, smoking and talking to your wife in the car! How often when a mate is arguing with the person is driving gets in a wreck.? Kids screaming in the back?

    The law is stupid. Has there been any research of how many drivers talk on cell phone safely. Doubleblind studies? I doubt it!

  13. augustine a. aliberti says:

    I must say that both, and I mean…both texing and being on the cellphone with a handheld cellphone seriously needs to be banned, and stoped by all, drivers. they are not all fully paying 100% of their driveing safety. sorry. this state laws bill must be fully passed with no serious problems. the public must, and should stay off there cellphones while driving. start teaching the public that driving is its most highest safety concerns.

    let’s stop and really, really, really, crack down its NEW LAWS, on banning all drivers from talking on there cellphones while driving. this goes out to all, all, of its public communites, towns, cities, and all, all, of its states. !!!!!

    Im 25,000 times on fully, banning this cellphone bill with no problems at all. doing the rightful thing, doing the rightful steps of putting out a strong state laws bill of all, all, cellphones hand held is banned. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m talking safety to me, you, and all of its local communities. I’m speaking of the safety of myself, and for all others effected. Im sending out my most highest, my most strongest powerful important message to this serious, serious, major problem. we must, again we must, wake up and stop the public from useing and talking on cellphones…WHILE DRIVING. !!!!!!!!!!

    please, please, please, help me, help save a life. today and every day. I take this very, very, seriously. help stop this problem right away.


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